RELATIVE ABUNDANCE OF LARGE WHALES AROUND SOUTH GEORGIA (1979–1998)1

Authors


  • 1

    A tribute to Ken Norris by Roger Payne. Anticipating that many others will use this opportunity to reaffirm Ken Norris's secure place in the history of cetacean biology I will use the chance to talk about Ken as a person. With his wife Philly he raised a wonderful family, built an unexcelled house among the redwoods (with ‘puk puks’ in the living room), and gave scores of students both the scientific wallop and the confidence to protect the environment. In addition to all that he created the Marine Mammal Society–no small feat given the fairly high PIP (primus inter pares) coefficient of some of our colleagues. As with the most distinguished members of any field there was no pettiness in Ken. He used his time and talent getting people to pull in the same direction. This was an aptitude the government recognized–it called on him again and again to oversee committees dealing with thorny, divisive issues. I sat on several, watching with admiration as Ken plied his trade at the head of the table, bringing us always to amiable conclusions. It was always a pleasure to see him, and hear his wonderful accounts of what he'd been up to. And it always made me glum to have to say goodbye. This time it's harder than ever.

Abstract

To assess large-whale stocks following the cessation of land-based South Georgia whaling in 1965, we report three independent sighting databases: a cruise in 1997, observations from Bird Island (NW of South Georgia) between 1979 and 1998, and mariner sightings between 1992 and 1997. All species were rare, with sightings of southern right whales being the most common event. Two right whales photographed off South Georgia matched animals known from Peninsula Valdés, Argentina, a population known to be growing at 7%per annum. In contrast, blue and fin whales appeared to be less abundant. A single blue whale mother-calf pair was observed off the Shag Rocks in February 1997. Extirpation of animals from this particular feeding ground is the most likely reason for ongoing low numbers of all species. Other factors may include competition for krill by traditional predators such as penguins and seals and more recently by humans, an unusually high rate of natural mortality, habitat change such as alteration in sea ice coverage, and/or the impact of ongoing whaling. The history of this critical area of large-whale habitat and this report demonstrate the need for improved, consistent longterm monitoring of population trends for these depleted stocks.

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